Measuring Sustainability Research Impact

Last month, Cabells was excited and honored to have the opportunity to take part in the EduData Summit (EDS), which took place at the United Nations in New York City. The EDS is the “world’s premium forum for data-driven educators – a platform for strategists, data scientists, CIOs and other dataheads to discuss and share best practices at the intersection of big data, predictive analytics, learning analytics, and education.”

The theme of this year’s Summit was “The Virtuous Circle: Sustainable and inclusive life-long learning through EduData” and sessions focused on areas such as access to education, continued and distance education, innovation in data science and AI, and sustainability.

Cabells CTO Lucas Toutloff was joined by Rachel Martin, Global Sustainability Director at Elsevier, and David Steingard from Saint Joseph’s University’s Haub School of Business for the virtual presentation “Industry-University Collaboration for Impact with the UN SDGs.” The panel discussed the importance of connecting research and science to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) widely, and more specifically, bridging the gap between researchers and practitioners. The SDGs are 17 highly interconnected goals spanning a large set of environmental, social, and economic topics and represent a universal call to action for building a more sustainable planet by 2030.  

Scholarly publishing can steer research and innovation toward the SDGs if we specifically and collectively shift the focus to address these crucial objectives and solutions. Researchers must lead the way by providing solutions for practitioners to put into action. As one of the first U.S. organizations and non-primary publishers globally to be awarded membership to the SDG Publishers Compact, along with having the privilege of being part of the Compact’s Fellows Group, Cabells is fully invested in helping to leverage the power of scholarly publishing to achieve the SDGs.

The SDG Publisher’s Compact core mission is to create practical and actionable recommendations for stakeholders in every corner of academic research – academic publishers, editors and reviewers, researchers and students, academic authors and librarians – for how they can have the SDGs at the forefront of their research agenda so we can collectively bridge the gap between researchers and practice. The goal of the Compact Fellows Group is to encourage all areas of the ecosystem to share in incentivizing researchers to perform work that supports and addresses the SDG and help smooth the transition from research to practice. The Compact has created specific best practices and recommendations for each sector that can be acted upon immediately to drive research into the hands of practitioners. The goal is to incentivize research that is driving innovation to address the SDGs which means we need to have ways to parse through, discover, and measure this research, because “what gets measured gets done.”

A major component in this process is establishing a broad spectrum of reporting and insights to drive incentives and measures of impactful research to gauge how an institution, individual researcher, or journal is performing in terms of SDGs. SDG Publisher’s Compact members have a responsibility to drive research to action and impact and devise ways to measure its effectiveness, reward those who conduct and publish impactful research in impactful journals, and continue to encourage those who don’t.

Toward this end, and in the spirit of SDG 17 “Partnerships for the Goals,” we are working with SJU on a publisher-neutral, AI-driven academic journals rating system assessing scholarly impact on the SDGs, called the SDG Impact Intensity (SDGII) rating. Data, scholarship, and science will be the driving forces for meeting the 2030 goal and as SDG research output is increasing, funders, universities, and commercial and not-for-profit organizations need to know money, time, and research is being well spent and having an impact.

We have discussed (here and here) our commitment to doing our part to advance progress on meeting the SDGs and, ultimately, the 2030 Agenda. Our work with Professor Steingard and his team from SJU in developing the SDGII to help business schools determine the impact their research is having on society by addressing global crises has been some of our most rewarding work. Working within the business school ecosystem, we’re examining how the SDGs can inspire a transformation from quality to impact in business by looking at journals in terms of their alignment and taxonomy connection to the SDGs.

The top 50 business school journals (according to Financial Times in 2016) were examined by the United Nations PRME group and it was discovered that only 2.8% of articles published in ‘top-tier’ journals address challenges such as poverty, climate change, clean energy, water, equality, etc. This is a problem that continues today, many of the same journals are still among the top in business journal rankings and they are not championing and featuring impactful research to any meaningful and impactful degree.

Cabells and SJU are trying to address this problem through the SDGII by shifting the philosophy on what “counts” when looking at business journals and noting which publications are driving impact with respect to the SDGs. We are working to integrate, promote, and ultimately change the benchmarks of what matters in academic output and the data that drives decision-making.

To continue to promote this initiative and encourage the shift from quality to impact, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to discuss our progress at the AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM), in April in New Orleans.

Sustainability is the crisis of our generation, and sustainability‑mindedness has been an important point in academic research. The SDGII is designed to give stakeholders on every level the ability to measure what they’re doing and to serve as a cross‑motivational tool to drive the industry forward on issues of sustainability. As mentioned earlier, when it comes to incentives, what gets measured gets done. The traditional metrics of evaluating the quality of research journals focus mainly on citation intensity which evaluates journals based on how much they are used and cited. While this makes sense on some level, research must be read to have an impact after all, it’s missing the mark by not considering, and measuring, impact on SDGs.

The SDGII is an alternative, complementary metric that will evaluate a journals SDG research and output through artificial intelligence and machine learning and build a profile for the publication to demonstrate its impact on these issues. Rather than throw out the traditional approach of evaluating quality and value of a journal, we are seeking to build on the foundation that good journals have in terms of things like scholarly rigor, audience, citations, and rankings. We want to move the needle to highlight research and journals that address the SDGs and the SDGII will help business schools demonstrate how their research is achieving societal impact and meeting the Global Goals.

Update: A Journal Hijacking

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an article originally posted in August, 2021.


As members of our journal evaluation team work their way around the universe of academic and medical publications, one of the more brazen and egregious predatory publishing scams they encounter is the hijacked, or cloned, journal.  One recent case of this scheme uncovered by our team, while frustrating in its flagrance, also offered some levity by way of its ineptitude. But make no mistake, hijacked journals are one of the more nefarious and injurious operations carried out by predatory publishers. They cause extensive damage not just to the legitimate journal that has had its name and brand stolen, but to medical and academic research at large, their respective communities of researchers and funders, and, ultimately, society.

There are a few different variations on the hijacked journal, but all include a counterfeit operation stealing the title, branding, ISSN, and/or domain name of a legitimate journal to create a duplicate, fraudulent version of the same. They do this to lure unsuspecting (or not) researchers into submitting their manuscripts (on any topic, not just those covered by the original, legitimate publication) for promises of rapid publication for a fee.

A recent case of journal hijacking investigated by our team involved the legitimate journal, Tierärztliche Praxis, a veterinary journal out of Germany with two series, one for small and one for large animal practitioners:

The legitimate website for Tierärztliche Praxis

by this counterfeit operation, using the same name:

The website for the hijacked version of Tierärztliche Praxis

One of the more immediate problems caused by cloned journals is how difficult they make it for scholars to discover and engage with the legitimate journal, as shown in the image below of Google search results for “Tierärztliche Praxis.” The first several search results refer to the fake journal, including the top result which links to the fake journal homepage:

“Tierärztliche praxis” translates to “veterinary practice” in English, and the legitimate journal is of course aimed at veterinary practitioners. Not so for the fake Tierärztliche Praxis “journal” (whose “publishers” didn’t bother/don’t care to find out what “tierärztliche” translates to) which claims to be a multidisciplinary journal covering all subjects and will accept articles on anything by anyone willing to pay to be published:

Aside from a few of the more obvious signs of deception found with the cloned journal: a poor website with duplicate text and poor grammar, an overly simple submission process, no consideration of the range of topics covered, to name a few, this journal’s “archive” of (stolen) articles takes things to a new level:

Above: the original article, stolen from Tuexenia vs. the hijacked version

A few things to note:

  • The stolen article shown in the pictures above is not even from the original journal that is being hijacked, but from a completely different journal, Tuexenia.
  • The white rectangle near the top left of the page to cover the original journal’s title and the poorly superimposed hijacked journal title and ISSN at the header of the pages, and the volume information and page number in the footer (without bothering to redact the original article page numbers).
  • The FINGER at the bottom left of just about every other page of this stolen article.
Predatory Reports listing for the hijacked version of Tierärztliche Praxis

Sadly, not all hijacked or otherwise predatory journals are this easy to spot. Medical and academic researchers must be hyper-vigilant when it comes to selecting a publication to which they submit their work. Refer to Cabells Predatory Reports criteria to become familiar with the tactics used by predatory publishers. Look at journal websites with a critical eye and be mindful of some of the more obvious red flags such as promises of fast publication, no information on the peer review process, dead links or poor grammar on the website, or pictures (with or without fingers) of obviously altered articles in the journal archives.

“Building a More Connected Scholarly Community” at #SSP2022

The theme of the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) 44th Annual Meeting, which kicks off today and runs through Friday, is “Building a More Connected Scholarly Community.” It has been (and has felt like) a long, COVID-‘inspired’ two years’ worth of remote work, Zoom meetings, and virtual conferences. While not fully out of the woods yet (will we ever be?), 2022 has afforded the scholarly community the opportunity to get back to in-person gatherings to reconnect with old friends and establish ties with new ones. The chance to meet with so many friends and colleagues face-to-face might have been taken for granted in year’s past, but that is no longer the case.

For our part, Cabells has jumped into the reinvigorated 2022 conference season with both feet, with stops in Arlington, VA for the PRME Biennial Meeting at George Mason University, New Orleans, LA for the AACSB’s ICAM, New Orleans, LA again for our first visit to the Medical Library Association’s annual conference, and now on to Chicago for one of our favorite annual gatherings with SSP.   

As if being back together in person wasn’t enough to get us psyched for SSP, we have more to look forward to in Chicago. In addition to proudly serving as Diamond Sponsors of this year’s meeting, we are also honored to be receiving a certificate of gratitude for our support of the SSP’s Generations Fund, which provides sustainable funding for SSP’s Fellowship, Mentoring, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs. Like the SSP, we believe that a community is only as strong as its leaders, and we stand behind their commitment to supporting and developing an inclusive next generation of difference-makers.

The capper to SSP 2022 for us will be when our CTO, Lucas Toutloff, takes part in an exciting panel on Thursday for Session 4F, “Open Science and SDGs: Harnessing Open Science to Address Global Issues.” As signatories and Fellows of the SDG Publishers Compact, Cabells is driven to champion the UN’s SDGs and promote dynamic, mission-driven research and journals. This session will examine ways that the scientific community and journalism can drive change and wider societal outreach through open science policies and by embracing SDGs as a key topic in research impact.

Lucas, along with Dr. David Steingard from Saint Joseph’s University (with whom we’ve developed the SDGII™ journal rating metric), Dr. Laura Helmuth, Editor in Chief of Scientific American, and Paul Perrin from the University of Notre Dame, will discuss case studies around the current state of open science, open science policy, and the practical ways that open science is impacting the SDG program. Also, and key to Cabells’ mission, the panel will explore a method for operationalizing SDG-mindedness as a tool for measuring both research impact and potential.

Check out the full 2022 program here and or find out more about the annual meeting here. We hope to see you in Chicago!

Seeds of Change

If you plan on attending the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP) 44th Annual Meeting next month in Chicago, be sure to make time to attend Session 4F, “Open Science and SDGs: Harnessing Open Science to Address Global Issues.” Lucas Toutloff, CTO at Cabells, will be part of an outstanding panel that will be discussing ways the scientific community and journalism can drive change and wider societal outreach through open science policies and by embracing SDGs as a key topic in research impact.

Over the past year we have written extensively about our commitment to doing our part to move the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and, ultimately, their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, forward. We were proud to join the SDG Publishers Compact as one of the first U.S. organizations and non-primary publishers globally to be awarded membership, and we look forward to becoming more involved in the rankings, ratings, and assessments HESI action group, tasked with guiding the changes to the criteria for assessment of the performance of higher education institutions to include contributions to the UN SDGs.

We’ve also been thrilled at the growth of and excitement for the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) academic journal rating, the first system for evaluating how journals contribute to positively impacting the SDGs. The SDGII is the result of our collaboration with Dr. David Steingard, Director of the SDG Dashboard initiative and Associate Professor of Leadership, Ethics, & Organizational Sustainability at the Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph’s University, and his team of researchers.

The SDGII uses SJU’s AI-based methodology to look at article output in journals from Cabells’ Journalytics database and gives those journals a ranking determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years with respect to the SDGs. The SDGII provides a rating of up to five ‘SDG wheels’ to summarize the SDG relevance of articles published over a five-year period (2016-2020).

Last month, we had the chance to champion the potential benefits and impact of the SDGII at the Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) North American Biennial Meeting in Virginia, and at the AACSB’s International Conference and Annual Meeting (ICAM) in New Orleans. David and his team discussed their vision and efforts to inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications.

From right to left: Dr. Julia Christensen Hughes, Dr. Kathleen Rodenburg, and Dr. David Steinberg speak at the PRME 2022 Biennial Meeting at George Mason University in Arlington, VA.

At PRME, we discussed how impact-focused metrics can support progressive publication and business education agendas and unveiled a new iteration of the metric – the SDGII 3000, which provides a rating to measure the SDG-intensity of 3000 academic business journals, as well as the net impact of a business school’s faculty on publications advancing the SDGs. The SDGII 3000 will analyze 95%+ of all relevant business school and SDG-related journals where faculty publish and represents a massive expansion of the measurement of the social and environmental impact of publications through the SDGs.  

Dr. David Steingard presents the SDGII 3000 for the first time at PRME.

We look forward to continuing this discussion in Chicago at the SSP conference, both during our session and beyond. We will discuss the ways that open science is impacting SDG initiatives and programs and explore methods for operationalizing SDG-mindedness as a tool for measuring both research impact and potential. The momentum is building for this game-changing initiative and we hope to see continued interest and excitement from all corners of academia.

Conference Season Continues…Back in the Big Easy!

This week, we are on the road attending the Medical Library Association’s annual conference, MLA ’22, in New Orleans, where we’re excited to showcase our soon-to-launch new product, Journalytics Medicine & Predatory Reports. If you are at the conference in New Orleans, be sure to stop by booth 520 to say hello and take a look at our exciting new offering designed to help medical researchers, librarians, administrators, and funders ensure their work and resources are protected and impactful.

We have had a busy and wonderful 2022 conference season so far. At the Principles for Responsible Management Education North American Biennial Meeting in Arlington, Virginia, and the AACSB’s annual ICAM conference, also in New Orleans, we had the amazing opportunity to discuss our collaboration with David Steingard and Saint Joseph’s University (previously discussed here and here) in examining how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications.

We look forward to chronicling our adventures and sharing the successes of the conferences after we’ve had the chance to reconnect with everyone and make our way back home. Stay tuned!

Back Together Again

Conference season is upon us and all of us at Cabells are excited to get back to in-person events to safely reconnect with old friends and establish ties with new ones. Like everyone else in the world, academe has had to adapt, pivot, and evolve to a new way of life, one largely designed to limit human interaction. Maybe that’s why it seems like there is a bit more excitement surrounding conferences this year, the anticipation of being back together with our community and all the ideas, learning, teaching, and growing that in-person events foster.

Cabells is hitting the ground running and we will be at the upcoming Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) North American Biennial Meeting April 21-23 in Arlington, Virginia. PRME is a United Nations-supported initiative founded in 2007 as a platform to raise the profile of sustainability in management and business schools around the world. Their mission to transform management education and shape the skills and mindset of future business leaders to advance sustainable development and create collective impact dovetails perfectly with Cabells’ values and goals.

Speaking of fitting perfectly with our mission, we are also very excited to be returning to AACSB’s ICAM 2022 in New Orleans, April 24-26. We will have a large contingent at ICAM this year, find us at booth 219 or in one of the conference’s insightful sessions to say hello and learn what we have been up to since we last met.

At both PRME and ICAM we are looking forward to discussing our work in collaboration with David Steingard and Saint Joseph’s University (previously discussed here and here) in examining how the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can inspire a transformation from “quality” to “impact” in academic publications. We’ve looked at opportunities that help and obstacles that hinder work on making this shift happen, and hope to offer solutions that help accelerate progress.

Our work in helping to develop the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) journal rating, which measures business and management journals on their focus and impact on sustainability and related issues has been challenging and rewarding. We’re looking forward to sharing our work and the progress we’ve made in helping shift the paradigm on what counts as impact in academic and business research.

We hope to see you in Arlington or New Orleans, travel safely!

Can Research Lost to Predatory Journals Be Saved?

At the launch event last month for the InterAcademy Partnership’s (IAP) recently released report on combatting predatory academic journals and conferences, an all too familiar question was posted to the virtual session’s chat by an attendee:

… I made this mistake once and I published a paper in one of these journals … now it does not appear online on searching … how can I withdraw this paper and republish it in a trusted journal??

This is a variation of a question we at Cabells are asked and consider frequently, and one that perfectly encapsulates the scholarly publishing-esque three-act drama that unfolds when a researcher is entangled with a deceptive publishing operation:

Act I: Setup

‘… I made this mistake once and I published a paper in one of these journals …’

The ‘mistake’ made (or in our drama, the ‘inciting incident’) was unknowingly submitting work to and publishing it in a predatory journal. This can and does happen innocently and somewhat easily to unsuspecting researchers, most often students and early career researchers.

Act II: Confrontation

‘…now it does not appear online on searching…’

The stakes are raised as the ramifications of the inciting incident from Act I are realized. One of the damaging results of having research published in a predatory journal is that it won’t be easily (if at all) discoverable. Some predatory journals advertise that they are included in well-known databases like Web of Science, Scopus, or Cabells, when they are not. These operations devote no time or resources to developing SEO or facilitating inclusion in research databases, so published articles will be difficult, if not impossible, to find.

Act III: Resolution

‘…How can I withdraw this paper and republish it in a trusted journal??’

The short answer, as provided in the launch event chat by Susan Veldsman, one of the authors of the IAP report, was succinct and unfortunately accurate:

‘Authors have reported that it is very difficult to retract these articles, actually no chance, as publishers just ignore requests and pleas from authors.’

This is the sad truth. Once an article is submitted to a predatory journal there is little to no hope of successfully withdrawing the article. These requests by authors are either ignored or not acted upon. Once published by the predatory journal, which often occurs without notice, researchers risk running afoul of publication ethics concerning duplicate publication if they submit the article to a second publication, whether or not copyright has been transferred. But should this be the case?

One alternative for dealing with research that has essentially been ‘lost’ to predatory operations, and so dismissed or ignored, was put forth by Jeanette Hatherill, Scholarly Communication Librarian at the University of Ottawa. Hatherill proposes that an author be able to “… retract or withdraw the article, acknowledge its ‘prior publication’ and submit it to a preprint server to make it available for open peer review.” While most preprint servers, including bioRxiv, require that articles be submitted prior to being accepted by (and of course, published in) a journal, Hatherill points out that these policies are set by the preprint servers and can be examined and revised.

As for the question of copyright, Hatherill notes that ‘even deceptive publishers’ such as OMICS, the predatory publishing giant recently on the losing end of a $50 million dollar judgment due to their predatory publishing practices, ‘state that all articles are available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.’ Publishing an article open access under Creative Commons licenses leaves the copyright with the author, meaning from a copyright standpoint it should be permissible to post on a preprint server as long as the place of first ‘publication’ is cited.

This solution doesn’t address the harmful effects of duplicate publication, like skewed citation metrics or flawed research due to redundant results from multiple publications, but the risk is minimal as papers published in predatory journals attract little attention and citations from scientists, especially when compared to those published in reputable publications.

Until a more comprehensive, structured, and widely applicable solution to the dilemma of how to salvage legitimate and potentially valuable research that has been unknowingly published in a predatory journal is found, creative solutions such as posting to a preprint server with an acknowledgment of prior publication and might be the most effective and efficient way to proceed.

IAP Report Sets Out Plan of Action for Fighting Predatory Academic Practices

Stemming the tide of predatory publishing operations is a challenging endeavor. Cabells has witnessed this firsthand through the rapid growth of our Predatory Reports database, which now lists over 16,000 deceptive publications. Advancements in digital publishing have made it easier than ever to launch and operate academic journals and have done much to democratize and globalize research. However, these same advancements have also made it easier than ever to create fake publishing operations that are focused solely on profit, with no regard for scholarship.

Recently, we discussed the importance of ‘researching your research’ and how one researcher’s persistence in vetting a suspect speaking opportunity at a conference traced back to a predatory publisher, Knowledge Enterprises Inc. (KEI), who happened to have six journals included in Predatory Reports). Predatory publishing outfits such as KEI were the focus of the recently released report from the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP), the global network of over 140 science, engineering, and medical academies. The report, “Combating Predatory Academic Journals and Conferences,” was the result of a two-year study to determine what constitutes predatory practices, pinpoint their root causes and drivers, and provide recommendations and guidance on how they can be identified and avoided.

We previously covered the initial findings from the survey of over 1,800 academics on 112 countries, which found that:

  • nearly a quarter of the academics had either published in a predatory journal, participated in a predatory conference, or didn’t know if they had
  • over 80% thought predatory practices were on the rise or a serious problem in their country of work
  • over 80% thought these practices fueled misinformation in public policy.

The study shows that researchers in all countries, at all stages of their career, and in any discipline can be vulnerable to predatory practices, and as a result, raising awareness is now a vital mission for IAP.

The authors identified three main drivers of predatory practices: the increasing monetization and commercialization of the scholarly enterprise, the predominance of quantity-over-quality research evaluation systems, and serious challenges and weaknesses in the peer-review system. To make a lasting and measurable impact on the pervasiveness of predatory journal and conference practices, these root causes, and the unintended consequences that spring from them, require urgent action.

The final section of the report examines the conclusions of the study, including the need for an evolved definition of predatory academic journals and conferences and an increase in the awareness and understanding of predatory behaviors. The study also concludes that predatory operations are on the rise and undermine public trust in research, waste resources, and exploit weaknesses in the peer review system.

Most importantly, the authors set out recommendations for a course of action to combat these harmful and pervasive outfits. Cabells takes seriously the fact that our resources, in particular Predatory Reports, are recommended as trustworthy and effective tools to identify and avoid predatory operations.

Ultimately, the report stresses the need for urgent and collective action among all stakeholders as predatory practices continue to rise at an alarming rate. Training is imperative as is the need for cooperation from all players in taking action on the report’s recommendations. The authors assert that efforts to identify, understand, and expose predatory academic operations must continue, and the root causes of predatory practices need to be addressed if interventions are to have any lasting impact.

Achieving Gender Equity is Fair and Desperately Needed


In the US, March is Women’s History Month, a time for celebrating the key part women have played in American history, and globally, March 8 was International Women’s Day, a day to “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality.” The theme for #IWD2022 is #BreakTheBias, a call to action and a stark reminder that while it is important to celebrate the progress that has been made on the path to gender equity, there is still a great deal of work to be done.

Major League Baseball serves as a microcosmic example of the problems facing society when it comes to gender equity. Though there has been progress toward equality in baseball recently (MLB scored a C for gender hiring in the 2021 Racial and Gender Report Card from the University of Central Florida [up from an F in 2020]), most notably with the hiring of Kim Ng by the Miami Marlins as the first female general manager in baseball, there remains a long way to go. And certainly, as baseball finds itself on the verge of having to cancel another batch of regular-season games due to a continuing labor dispute, it has escaped no one’s attention that the most active and visible people involved in negotiations on both the MLB and MLBPA sides are all men, and things have gone horribly.  

In STEM fields, the stakes are higher and contributions by women have been overlooked throughout history. The lack of scientific innovation has real consequences and leads to missed opportunities for advancement in crucial areas. The climb toward gender equity in STEM is a work in progress, but barriers persist and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Instead of having the best minds working on solving the biggest problems facing the world, such as the climate crisis, we’ve spent too much time with one hand tied behind our collective back by making it unnecessarily and irrationally difficult for women to contribute.

Credit: Unsplash

Scholarly and scientific publishing are not immune to gender inequity, with biases endemic in their editorial infrastructures and reflected in their ranks of authors, reviewers, and editors. Recent studies have found clear disparities on the editorial boards of journals in psychology and neuroscience as well as chemistry. A study published last month in the Journal of Information Science found no significant difference in publication rates by gender over the course of the pandemic overall, but the evidence points to gender bias being still quite prevalent in certain fields.

As Jennifer Tour Chayes noted recently, “addressing the gender disparity in STEM isn’t just a question of striving for a fairer society, it’s also fundamental to solving the complex challenges that affect us all.” Scientific advancement springs from the minds of creative, innovative, and doggedly determined people. By not having equal support, training, funding, and hiring opportunities available for women, we are missing out on finding the best and the brightest among all of us – this is not only wrong and unfair, it’s harmful.

SDGs and the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative: The Way Forward


The 17 integrated UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Research and higher education will play vital roles in society’s march toward achieving the SDGs by the end of the decade and in building a sustainable future by providing current and future stakeholders with the knowledge, skills, and ethos to make informed and effective decisions to this end.

The Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) is a partnership that gathers over two dozen UN agency members and Higher Education Sustainability Networks. The Initiative tackles the most crucial challenges of our time by redesigning higher education to provide leadership on education for sustainable development, spearheading efforts to ‘green’ campuses, and supporting sustainable efforts in communities, while also ensuring the quality of education, equity, and gender equality.

Initiated in 2012 leading up to the Rio+20 conference, and bolstered with support of the United Nations, HESI provides higher education institutions with a vibrant confluence of higher education, science, and policymaking by enhancing awareness of higher education’s role in supporting sustainable development, facilitating multi-stakeholder discussions and action, and sharing best practices. The Initiative emphasizes the crucial role that higher education plays in educating the current and next generation of leaders, propelling the research agenda for public and private sectors, and helping to shape the path of national economies.

HESI also aims to directly address the problem of aligning research programs and outcomes in scholarly publications. By highlighting those journals that are already focused on this alignment – and those that could do better – Cabells and Saint Joseph’s University are hoping to play a big part in facilitating this process.

One of the overall goals of Cabells is to optimize decision making for both researchers and institutions. The SDGs are becoming increasingly important to these groups, and we strive to support them in enhancing the impact of the work they’re doing. One way we’ve been able to do this is through our collaboration with Saint Joseph’s University and Dr. David Steingard, developers of the SDG Dashboard at Saint Joseph’s University, to create a new metric called the SDG Impact Intensity™ (SDGII) journal rating. The SDGII seeks to contextualize and understand the relevance of academic research in terms of the SDGs. Climate change, sustainability, and equity are among the most powerful forces for change in society, and yet they are ignored by traditional citation-based metrics.

The SDG Impact Intensity uses a sophisticated AI methodology from SJU to look at article output in journals from Cabells’ Journalytics database and gives those journals a ranking determined by the relative focus they have exhibited in their article publications over the last five years with respect to the SDGs. The SDGII provides a rating of up to five ‘SDG wheels’ to summarize the SDG relevance of articles published over a five-year period (2016-2020).

As previously discussed in The Source, the SDGII show that journals well-known for perceived academic quality in business and management performed badly when assessed for SDG relevance, while journals focused on sustainability issues performed much better.

We believe our work with SJU and Dr. Steingard will be a key collaboration within the industry and its work on the SDGs, and we’ve joined the SDG Publishers Compact (Cabells was proud to be named the Compact’s member of the month for December 2021) to help further this partnership and the pursuit of the SDGs. In the coming months, Cabells and Dr. Steingard will be on hand at the upcoming PRME, AACSB, and SSP annual meetings to discuss a new iteration of the metric and lead discussions on how impact-focused metrics can support a progressive publication agenda. Greater than a change in perspective, there is an ongoing paradigm shift occurring as the value of journals moves past ideas of quality based largely on citations, reputation lists, and prestige, to impact and mission-driven research outputs.